E-Newsletter: Fix flaws in police-pursuit law now, not next year

After Clark County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jeremy Brown was murdered while on duty in July 2021, there was reason to connect his killing with what were then the new state restrictions on police pursuits.

The people arrested for Sgt. Brown’s killing reportedly were suspects in a burglary the day before, but pursuing them was not an option because of the new rules. That meant the burglary suspects were able to commit other crimes – like murder.

I get that the restrictions are meant to reduce the number of fatalities related to police pursuits. But I also understand law-enforcement officers are trained about deciding when to pursue, and how to pursue as safely as possible. The ability to rely on that training and their professional judgment has been taken away. Criminals are fully aware that they aren’t likely to be chased, so that deterrent is gone. Law-enforcement leaders have been very public about how auto thefts and other crimes have soared since the new limits kicked in about 18 months ago.

We almost fixed the problem in 2022 with bipartisan legislation that was passed in both houses of the Legislature, but there were differences to reconcile in the closing days of the session. All it would have taken was one more vote in the Senate, for us to agree to the changes made to the legislation by the House, but Democratic leaders in the Senate refused to allow it, and the bill died.

Fixing the mistake made on police pursuits is a high priority for 2023. But after four weeks of our session, it’s become clear that Democrat leaders are already putting up strong resistance to restoring the concept of “reasonable suspicion” to the law. A bipartisan fix that was gaining traction has been sidelined, and partisan legislation that basically punts the issue to an unelected commission, delaying any real solution for at least 18 more months, is moving ahead.

In the meantime, criminals who can’t be pursued will remain free to commit more mayhem. As we know from the murder of Sgt. Brown, one additional day on the street can be one too many.

A different way to pursue a reduction in auto theft
In 2007, back when there was clear bipartisan interest in cracking down on auto theft, legislators created an organization called the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority.

Using an account funded with a $10 fee per traffic infraction, the organization’s 10-member board allocates funds to public agencies for programs to combat motor-vehicle theft. For instance, recent grants are funding a Clark County prosecutor to work exclusively on auto-theft cases, and a Puget Sound Auto Theft Task Force (a sergeant and six detectives in south King and Pierce counties).

Unfortunately, too much money from the account is now being diverted to things not related to fighting auto theft — and less money is coming in because fewer traffic infractions are occurring. This week I introduced SB 5672 to replenish the auto-theft authority’s funding, by dedicating money from an insurance-premiums tax that otherwise goes into the general fund. Insurers pay out more when more cars are stolen, so it seems reasonable to put those dollars toward reducing auto theft.

Senator Rolfes and I have established a good working relationship since I became Republican budget leader. Even when we don’t agree I don’t doubt that she appreciates my input, as I would hers if the positions were reversed.

Budget work moves to round two, and it’s still bipartisan
The responses to last week’s e-newsletter included one that agreed with some of my points and disagreed with others – which is fine by me. It also asked, in so many words, where’s the bipartisanship?

Here’s an example: The weeks of bipartisan work that have already gone into developing the 2023-25 state operating budget.

I meet regularly with Sen. Christine Rolfes, budget leader for the Senate’s majority Democrats and chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. We’ve just completed what I would call round one, meaning our respective budget staffs and members of the Ways and Means staff have gone line by line through the budget proposed by Governor Inslee in December.

Our staff has pulled all the spending items that are new from the Inslee budget, which is used as a starting point, and left the appropriations that would simply maintain services and programs. We figure the maintenance items will cost an additional $1.5 billion over the next budget cycle.

Round two is about looking beyond maintenance-level. The state has $6-plus billion in reserve, so subtracting the $1.5 billion for maintenance means at least $4 billion is available for “new” spending. Because I’m not only a fiscal conservative but also worried a recession could be around the corner, Senator Rolfes is already hearing me talk about spending as little on new things as possible – and to focus any new spending on what we all agree are priorities. Of course, I will never stop advocating for tax relief!

I hold out hope that the Senate budget proposal will be responsible enough to attract Republican support, but I also realize there may come a point when the Democrats lose interest in Republican input, and complete the plan on their own. We’ll know one way or the other before the end of March.

Washington has a shortage of homes that people can afford to buy – especially those looking for their first home – and the staggering cost of regulations is a big reason why. The Building Industry Association of Washington recently compiled the latest numbers showing how the cost of a home is inflated by a variety of government-controlled factors. My SB 5037, which would allow more home-heating options, and SB 5117, which proposes a set of reforms involving the State Building Code Council, are among the bills I’m sponsoring that are aimed at bringing the costs of housing construction down.

Hearing on firearms bill delayed despite massive public interest
Senate policy committees have two weeks left to act on Senate bills. The bills I’m watching include two that have to do with firearms – and judging from my inbox, many Washingtonians are watching them also.

My office has received more than 5,000 emails about firearms legislation this session, with SB 5232 accounting for more than any other single bill. This bill would add to the requirements already in place for the sale or transfer of a firearm, going well beyond a background check. It would also require an application to purchase a gun and verification that the buyer has completed firearm-safety training… including a demonstration of “shooting proficiency,” which is not defined in the bill — nor does it identify who decides if you’re proficient.

As a licensed firearms instructor, I’m all for people being trained in firearm safety. But it’s one thing to encourage safety training and another to require safety training, when we’re talking about exercising a right that is protected under both the U.S. and Washington constitutions.

SB 5232 was scheduled for a public hearing in our Law and Justice Committee meeting yesterday, which began at 8 a.m. I know people from Clark County who hit the road at 5:30 a.m. to reach the Capitol in time to testify. For reasons that aren’t clear, the committee chair decided during yesterday’s meeting, after people had already made the drive, that she would postpone the hearing on SB 5232.

I’d say 95% of the people in that nearly-full Senate hearing room were there to exercise their First Amendment rights to protect their Second Amendment rights. What a waste of time and fuel that postponement meant for those who were ready to make compelling arguments against the bill. Now the hearing is scheduled for next Thursday, and we’ll see if it really happens then or is bumped yet another week, right up to the deadline for the committee to act.

Given the constitutional questions about SB 5232 (and related, recent federal court decisions) I think our committee’s time would be better spent if we abandoned that bill and allowed public testimony about SB 5049 instead. That’s my bill to increase the penalty for firearm theft, but the chair has already told me she doesn’t see how that would help.

The other firearms bill that really brought the emails in this week is SB 5078. That’s because it came before me in Ways and Means on Tuesday, after Democrats on our Law and Justice committee had moved the bill forward on Jan. 19 (after I clearly stated my opposition here).

This bill would basically allow lawsuits against firearms manufacturers, distributors and dealers if it’s alleged that the products they make or sell are used to cause harm to someone, whether there’s proof of such harm of not. It makes as much sense as allowing lawsuits against the store that sells alcoholic beverages to a legal-drinking-age adult who consumes the alcohol, gets intoxicated and causes a car crash that hurts another person.

If passed, SB 5078 would very likely drive firearms manufacturers and many dealers out of Washington (they’ve told me so), while doing zero to keep stolen guns from being used in other crimes.

It’s time for Mount Saint Helens to be on a license plate
I have nothing against Mount Rainier, but still… it’s been featured on the standard-issue Washington license plates for 30-plus years. How about some love for the peak that is probably better known outside of our state than Rainier?

I’m talking about Mount Saint Helens, and as state senator for Skamania County, I’ve just introduced legislation to create a special license plate for the volcano that surely qualifies as the county’s most prominent resident.

Senate Bill 5590 is already scheduled for a public hearing – this coming Monday, during the Transportation Committee meeting that starts at 4 p.m. Proceeds from this plate would go toward promoting education, stewardship, and science at Mount St. Helens through the Mount St. Helens institute.

This link will take you to a webpage that allows you to sign in to support the bill, or testify remotely during Monday’s hearing.

To show support for the Mount St. Helens license plate, you may visit this link and sign a petition that will go to the state Department of Licensing.


I hope you will reach out whenever you have a comment or question about your state government.

Yours in service,

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